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T.O. left standing as Parcells calls it a day

1/23/2007 - NFL Terrell Owens Dallas Cowboys + more

Wait: Did T.O. just win?

Because that's what it looks like from here, way out in the backwater regions of the NFL, in soft, non-playoff Northern California. And while the view can be skewed from so far away, what it looks like is Bill Parcells leaving Dallas and Terrell Owens staying there. What it looks like is Owens sticking with Jerry Jones, and vice versa, which equals Parcells getting out of Dodge before the next round of recriminations flies.

It looks like an older coach who finally just couldn't handle one more day with an emotional burden the dimension and character of Owens, who's got more energy, at least as much ego, and the staying power of a man who may never fully realize what a cartoon character he has become.

And you know what? That's the bad news, all of it, right there.

Some Cowboys fans may be in no great hurry to bemoan the departure of a guy, Parcells, who came in with Super Bowl pedigree and left with a 34-32 record, no playoff victories and not even a single postseason game at home in four years of trying. It's undeniably true that Parcells wasn't setting land-speed records for success in the three seasons that preceded the Great Owens Caper. Maybe he really had lost his zeal for the job.

It looks like Owens was ready to see him go.

"Sometimes change is good," Owens told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram on Monday. "I think it was needed."

Parcells, though, and his staff were the people who essentially identified Tony Romo as a potential NFL front-liner, and the people under whom the quarterback blossomed so nicely this season. It isn't as though Parcells had forgotten how to see talent and help grow it.

But with Owens in the picture, does any of that really matter? The receiver and his serio-comic misadventures have steadily grown to the point that they eclipse everything that stands near them. He turned football-loving Philly into one giant T.O. conversation, though thankfully a temporary one. In Dallas, even Parcells, with his legend and his aura, couldn't outstrip the 24-hour news cycle that is Owens.

It didn't end with Parcells' departure.

"Coming into this season and this situation, I wanted to be positive," Owens told the Star-Telegram. "When I talked to [Parcells] for the first time we left an impression on each other. I still think he is a great guy. But he is like my grandmother. You love the person, but they are stuck in their old-school ways. You can't move them from their way of thought."

Owens bitched about offensive schemes, but he also played with a finger so badly screwed-up that it required offseason surgery. He had a famous "Why did they even sign me?" locker-room meltdown after the Cowboys' road game against the Eagles, but he didn't miss a start.

He went through his infamous medication malfunction, spit in DeAngelo Hall's face, and, almost classically, wrote a children's book entitled, "Little T Learns to Share." But he also finished with his highest reception total in five years, led all NFL receivers with 13 touchdowns and nearly cracked 1,200 receiving yards.

Oh, and Owens strained Parcells' last nerve. And while I have absolutely no idea why Parcells needed more than two weeks after the season to announce he wouldn't return for 2007, it's no mystery why he might have had enough. He was working for an owner in Jones who sought out the controversy and the talent that is Terrell Owens, and decided it was worth $25 million to exploit the latter and simply deal with -- or better yet, try hard to ignore! -- the former.

Parcells' departure all but guarantees that Jones is aligning himself with Owens for the next few years -- which, if nothing else, puts a distinctive spin on ye olde coaching search. You want to run the Cowboys? You'd better be prepared to roll out a carpet every time Owens wants to take a walk down the hall. Because if a guy like Bill Parcells finally decides he can't go on with it, then you'd better understand that this is one 9,000-pound load of gunk you're going to be dealing with.

When Owens first crashed into the NFL in San Francisco, he just seemed to be all heart. It's one of the most depressing modern-day athlete stories imaginable, watching him "grow up" to the point that even a team coached by Bill Parcells would eventually dissolve into yet another T.O. horse opera. I guess that's a win for Owens, for those keeping score at home.

Mark Kreidler's book "Four Days to Glory: Wrestling With the Soul of the American Heartland," published by HarperCollins, can be ordered via amazon.com and markkreidler.com. Kreidler is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.